Boaters, cyclists wait for Missouri River to drop

Wednesday, June 18, 2008 | 9:04 p.m. CDT; updated 3:56 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Rocheport resident Joe Wolfe paddled his kayak past first base, he thinks, on the baseball field in Welbern Park Monday. But Wolfe couldn’t tell where the bases were, they were too far under water.

The flooded park in Rocheport was one of his alternatives for kayaking when the Missouri River waters reached unsafe heights.

Missouri River 340

What: Non-stop Missouri River endurance race Where: From Kansas City to St. Charles When: July 15-19, registration ends July 1 Who: Experienced canoe and kayak paddlers More:

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“I don’t know many people who go out in this kind of water.” Wolfe said.

“This kind of water” is the fast-moving, debris-clogged, hidden-buoy-popping-up-and-flipping-your-boat type of flood water that the Missouri River has been experiencing lately.

As of Wednesday morning, the water level near Boonville, just upstream from Rocheport, was 27.8 feet, nearly seven feet above flood stage.

“It’s frankly too dangerous on a kayak,” Wolfe said about why he stopped at the mouth of Moniteau Creek and did not venture onto the main channel of the Missouri River.

Brett Dufur, a river guide for Mighty-Mo Canoe Rental and mayor of Rocheport, has cancelled at least 10 guided river floats since the end of April because of the river level and doesn’t expect to have another float until the Fourth of July weekend.

Mighty-Mo operates its guided river floats when the Missouri River is at 18 feet or below at Boonville, where the closest river gauge is located.

The river level is expected to begin dropping later this week and then decline quickly. The National Weather Service forecast office in Kansas City predicts the water to drop below flood stage by Saturday afternoon.

Dufur, who is also the mayor of Rocheport, said the biggest damage from the heavy rains is the perception of the town as “washed away.”

“Our whole town is driven by tourism, the ecotourism,” Dufur said.

Drew Lemberger of Drew’s Guide Service said he hasn’t been able to take his customers out on the river for about two weeks because of the unsafe conditions.

Lemberger offers fishing, bird-watching, and sightseeing on the Missouri River and said the water would need to fall 8 to 10 feet before he could take people out.

The dangers of high rivers include dislodged tree trunks and buoys. Once marking the sides of the river, buoys can get pulled under murky waters by the fast current, only to pop up again with jarring force strong enough to flip a small boat. Once separated from their boat, paddlers are left to battle with the speed and force of the current along with the chemicals and debris that get carried into the river water by flooding.

High water also delayed Lemberger’s training for the Missouri River 340, a canoe and kayak race from Kansas City to St. Charles in mid-July.

Scott Mansker, race director for the Missouri River 340, said the Missouri River has a fast current, but the experienced paddlers he has talked to have found it safe and exciting to train on for the race.

“If anything, they’re going to be spoiled by it,” Mansker said.

He said the high water moves faster, so paddlers will get used to going 11 mph instead of the usual 8 mph during regular river levels.

Mansker anticipates the water will drop 10 feet in the next four weeks before the race. Even if the race were held today, Mansker said paddlers could still compete in the fast current because he has seen most of the debris already flushed out. “The worst seems to be over,” Mansker said.

However, Mansker advises that recreational boaters avoid the river while it’s flooded.

“Unless you have experience on the Missouri River, now is not a good time to learn the river,” he said.

The problem the racers are likely to face is the mud that will appear on ramps as the waters drop.

“It’s gonna be a mess when the waters go down,” Mansker said.

Boaters aren’t the only ones facing difficulty after the heavy rains this year.

Bikers on the Ride West Katy Trail ride were detoured after rising water covered two spots on the trail Wednesday during the group’s annual five-day ride. Flooding closed two sections of the trail, between Hart’s Creek and Wilton, and between Rocheport and New Franklin.

Riders in the annual St. Charles to Clinton ride were shuttled from Hartsburg to Easley because of water covering the trail near Wilton.

Later on Wednesday, riders detoured onto the streets west of the tunnel at Rocheport because of flooding that began Tuesday morning around mile marker 180.

Waiting for the water in the Missouri River to go down is not only a matter of safety for Wolfe, but a matter of character.

“I have a great respect for the river,” Wolfe said. “I don’t fear it, but you have to respect it.”

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